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Sport 10: Autumn 1993

kilbirnie wreck

kilbirnie wreck

Of course he played rugby, Tommy says, it consumed him for a time. His mother held the yard-broom across the door, but he pushed past her, he borrowed boots, he disguised his broken nose. In Wellington, motherless, he immersed himself, he peaked, open-side flanker, Marist Second Grade: the Wednesday practices, the Saturday game, the hot breath visible in the frigid air, the teamwork, the physicality, it was all good clean stuff.

'Ah, but there were dirty times!' says Vince, sensing his moment, 'dirty play, dirty places. What about the Battle of Kilbirnie Rec?'

'Oh God, here we go,' says Rose, giving her famous eyeball-roll, but it is a pallid effort, really her body is alive, she leans forward into the story, pushing it on.

'Ray Vogan and I,' Tommy says, 'we used to plot tactics on Friday night, page 75 down in the common room—'

'Hostel, you know,' Teresa says.

'—and Frank Moynihan played the piano, Hungarian Dances, and what's that Turkish one, Rose?'

'Rondo Alla Turka.'

'Rondo Alla Turka!'

'Al-la Tur-ka,' he says again, drawing it out, loving those words on his tongue.

'Nancy little gathering, wasn't it?' says Vince. 'No beer at these barn- dances. No skirt, either.'

'Oh, and Mr-Man-About-Town is still living with his mother at this stage, twenty-six. and. having. his. bed made.' Teresa jabs at Vince, a precise, angry rhythm.

'No liquor,' Tommy jumps in, 'absolutely proscribed. Night before the Big Game.'

'So it's next morning,' says Vince, 'they're down there, Kilbirnie Recreational Park, waiting for—who was it?'

'Petone,' Tommy says wistfully, 'only unbeaten team besides us, had to beat them.'

'Petone, Protestant buggers, glowering across at Marist—'

'All in good fun,' says Tommy.

'Nah, they were always dirty players.' Vince is emphatic, he's directing this story. 'No gentlemen in Petone.'

'Pathetic, isn't it?' Rose says to Teresa. 'Over a bag of wind.'

'Pathetic,' Teresa agrees. She curls her lip, tasting something sour.

It's cold as a witch's tit, Ray Vogan's pacing on the sideline, he's injured, our man Mondini's captain for the day!' Vince clouts Tommy on the back, grins at his audience.

'Get on with it,' Rose says.

'The whistle goes, first-five kicks short, forwards converge.' Vince is crouched, calling the field, racing-style, he cranks his voice up, a high sexless drone, zeroing in.

'Mondini jumps, taps it to the ground, falls on the ball, opposition forwards surge, Mondini's hanging on, clutching desperately—we're still in the first thirty seconds—he's holding, he's holding, he's turned over—'

'Watch it Vince.' Tommy is grasping Vince, laughing, yes, but his knuckles whiten on the fleshy upper arm, he's warning with his eyes.

page 76


'—he's turned over by the relentless Petone forward machine, he's clasping that ball to his bosom, but some Petone bastard—they never know who—some bastard lifts his foot and—'

'Language, Vince!'

'Oh for God's sake, Vince, we're not at Trentham,' Teresa's poking at Vince again, pushing him off his haunches.

'Petone lifts his foot high,' calls Vince, back on his hands now, singing to the ceiling, 'he's remorseless, he brings it down—'

'Language, Vince! Vincent!'

'Belt up, Tommy,' Rose snaps, 'they've heard it all before.'

'—he brings it down, kr-punch, stomps on, mashes Mondini's poor exposed-'

'Vincent!' Tommy is yelling.

'—test-tick-a-lees,' says Vince, daintily, wide-eyed and whispering, mild as a nun. Then he's forward on his hands, cat-like, shaking with laughter. 'So what if he said balls?' says Rose, treacherously, just as Tommy is sinking back in his chair, rueful, relieved.

'BALLS!' she shouts, briefly, violently, into Tommy's startled face.

'Just a word.'

'And that's not even the funny part,' says Vince, recovered now, back on his feet.

'Oooo, don't we love this bit,' says Teresa. 'Look at him, he can't wait, he's in love with his own voice.'

They all love this bit, though, Reen thinks. Tommy is amiable again, he's dropped the watch-dog, he's sitting back, amused, pleased to provide a joke. And Rose and Teresa, they're taut, eyes narrowed, knowing the punch-line but pulled in, playing their part.

'Poor old boy,' Vince continues, 'just about out with the pain. Course the game's gotta go on, but the St John's says off to Outpatients. Ray Vogan drives at breakneck speed to Wellington Public and he's sitting in the corridor clutching his privates when a nice young nurse comes along, nice little Italian girl as it turns out.

"Where were you hurt?" she asks. "Where did you get hit?"

'He's in agony, but he can't say it, can't mention his goolies.'

Vince is choked up again, he barks and splutters, spraying spittle.

'He's bent right over, scarlet, and she's shaking him by the arm—

page 77

"Come on sir, tell me where you were hurt, sir, sir—"

'And Ray Vogan's gone, he's back to the game, so old Tommy he's got no one, he has to face it, he has to say it—

"What's your name?" she says.

"Mondini," he squeaks.

"Mr Mondini " She's bending down, staring up into his face, they're eyeball to eyeball—'

'Oh, for God's sake, Vincent!' Teresa yells. But Rose is transfixed, Reen sees, she's fastened on Vince, sucking the words out of him.

"Mr Mondini," she says, "please answer me, where were you hurt?"

'He's gotta say it, he's sitting there groaning, hands round his jewels, beside himself with pain and she's eyeballing him, and, and, and he opens his mouth-' Vince is squeaking himself, now, falling on Tommy, laughing into his neck. '—he opens his mouth, Mama's boy from Reevetown, and what does he say, what does he say?

'He says he was hurt at Kilbirnie Rec!!'

They are all laughing now, laughing and laughing and laughing, but as they laugh they retreat, the strange synchronism which has driven this story fades slowly and leaves the four of them oddly disparate, solitary at the end. Teresa is head down, a breathy, grudging snortle issuing; Vince is spent, he's sprawled in a chair, exhausted by his hilarity; Rose sniggers doubtfully, she's watching Tommy; and Tommy, he's twitching, he's laughing so hard tears fill his eyes.